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Virginia Tech researchers start testing COVID-19 on campus effluent: Augusta Free Press

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Published on Sunday, September 6, 2020, at 8:09 am

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A team of Virginia Tech researchers will begin testing wastewater at 15 campus sites for the presence of COVID-19. This will allow universities to identify and respond to positive tests more quickly.

This advance will allow universities to monitor campus building clusters daily to test for the presence of viruses in their faeces. If the test shows a positive result, the university can conduct targeted testing among individuals within the building to reduce the likelihood of infection. The idea is to identify clusters of viruses more aggressively, even when an individual is asymptomatic.

The general idea is that people with COVID-19 excrete viruses or viral RNA from their faeces, which leads to sewers, said Peter Vikesland, a professor of civil and environmental engineering. This signal can be detected for some time after a person becomes ill and may be detected before the clinical case begins.

A team led by Vikesland, Amy Pruden, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Ph.D. The Ayella Maile-Moskowitz candidate has sampled at five campus sites to test the process, but has just begun testing the sample. Currently, Virginia Tech’s Vice President of Research and Development’s office and the Department of Civil Engineering have invested $200,000 to extend the project to 15 sites on the Blacksburg campus. Most, but not all, sampling sites focus on dormitory gatherings.

“When we saw researchers all over the world testing wastewater for COVID, it’s interesting to see if that’s possible because we’ve already examined wastewater for pathogens and viruses in the lab. I thought,” Maile-Moskowitz said. “It became clear that the pandemic wouldn’t go anywhere, so I thought it was an opportunity, especially as an early warning system, to help the university identify possible outbreaks around the university. “

Prudden said it is in the process of expanding surveillance and obtaining baselines. Students who tested positive were planning to sample from sewer sewage on an isolated campus. It’s a good positive control to compare to and you’ll work from there.

Each site can be monitored daily and samples are sent to the Molecular Diagnostics Laboratory at VTC’s Fullerin Biomedical Institute. The lab processes clinical swabs for the COVID-19 test in the Roanoke and New River Valleys.

The idea of ​​the whole study is conceptually very simple, said Carla Finkielstein, who is responsible for the lab and associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences. If you really think, what we want here is to use some broad method to test the community and see if a potential COVID outbreak occurs. The idea is to identify the virus before it spreads. One of the most difficult things to do is identify presymptomatic and subclinical cases. Performing such sewer epidemiology will give you a snapshot of what is happening in the population and the conditions that do not show symptoms of the disease. You can detect the virus before someone shows any symptoms.

Samples are processed within a day of being received in the lab and additional samples do not add significantly to the lab workload, Finkielstein said. In fact, they may help Virginia Tech actively target testing to potential outbreaks. If the cluster of housing halls gives a positive result, Virginia Tech will work with the Virginia Department of Health to do more testing in these halls. About contact tracking.

This methodology stems from a previous project aimed at monitoring sewage and tracking antibiotic resistance. With the pandemic and approval to develop the COVID-19 process, researchers may be able to learn more and adapt the system to monitor other viruses and markers in the future.

Prudden wants to build a platform that is flexible not only for pandemics, but for future pandemics and global health threats.

Ron Fricker, Senior Associate Dean of the Virginia Tech School of Science, co-leads an interdisciplinary infectious disease modeling group that helps universities better understand and plan the effects of pandemics. He welcomed the sewage monitoring project as a true transformant of Virginia Tech’s ability to monitor COVID-19.

According to Flicker, this effort is the best example of Virginia Tech. Inter-campus collaboration between faculty and students at Fralin Biomedical Research Institute, Virginia Tech Emergency Management, a department of engineering, science, veterinary medicine, campus planning, infrastructure and facilities that helps solve key real-world problems Everyone gathered to develop and deploy new technology.

Find out more about Virginia Tech’s response to COVID-19 on the University Ready site.

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